Tinnitus and Hearing Health Calgary, Calgary AL

Woman with sudden sensorineural hearing loss holding ears.

Everything you thought you knew about sensorineural hearing loss may be wrong. Alright – not everything is wrong. But there is at least one thing worth clearing up. We’re used to thinking about conductive hearing loss occurring suddenly and sensorineural hearing loss sneaking up on you over time. It turns out that’s not inevitably true – and that sudden onset of sensorineural hearing loss might often be wrongly diagnosed.

Is Sensorineural Hearing Loss Commonly Slow Moving?

The difference between conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss might seem hard to understand. So, the main point can be categorized in like this:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This kind of hearing loss is the result of an obstruction in the middle or outer ear. This could consist of anything from allergy-driven inflammation to earwax. Conductive hearing loss is commonly treatable (and dealing with the root problem will usually result in the recovery of your hearing).
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: This kind of hearing loss is normally due to damage to the nerves or stereocilia in the inner ear. When you think of hearing loss caused by intense noises, you’re thinking of sensorineural hearing loss. Although you might be able to treat sensorineural hearing loss so it doesn’t get worse in most cases the damage is permanent.

It’s common for sensorineural hearing loss to occur slowly over a period of time while conductive hearing loss happens somewhat suddenly. But sometimes it works out differently. Despite the fact that sudden sensorineural hearing loss is not very common, it does exist. If SSNHL is misdiagnosed as a form of conductive hearing loss it can be especially harmful.

Why is SSNHL Misdiagnosed?

To understand why SSNHL is misdiagnosed fairly often, it might be helpful to take a look at a hypothetical situation. Let’s imagine that Steven, a busy project manager in his early forties, woke up one day and couldn’t hear out of his right ear. His alarm clock sounded quieter. As did his barking dog and a crying baby. So he did the practical thing and scheduled a hearing assessment. Of course, Steven was in a hurry. He had to get caught up on some work after recovering from a cold. Maybe, while at his appointment, he forgot to mention his recent illness. And maybe he even unintentionally left out some other significant information (he was, after all, already stressing over getting back to work). So after being prescribed with antibiotics, he was told to come back if his symptoms persisted. Sudden onset of sensorineural hearing loss is fairly rare (something like 6 in 5000 according to the National Institutes of Health). And so, in the majority of cases, Steven would be just fine. But there could be dangerous repercussions if Steven’s SSNHL was misdiagnosed.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss: The First 72 Critical Hours

SSNH can be caused by a variety of conditions and situations. Some of those causes might include:

  • A neurological issue.
  • Inflammation.
  • Blood circulation problems.
  • Specific medications.
  • Traumatic brain injury or head trauma of some kind.

This list could go on for a while. Your hearing specialist will have a far better concept of what problems you should be watching for. But many of these root problems can be managed and that’s the most important point. And if they’re addressed before damage to the nerves or stereocilia becomes permanent, there’s a chance that you can lessen your long term loss of hearing.

The Hum Test

If you’re having a bout of sudden hearing loss, like Steven, you can do a brief test to get a rough concept of where the issue is coming from. And it’s fairly simple: hum to yourself. Simply hum a few bars of your favorite tune. What do you hear? Your humming should sound the same in both of your ears if your hearing loss is conductive. (The majority of what you’re hearing when you hum, after all, is coming from inside your head.) If your humming is louder in one ear than the other, the hearing loss might be sensorineural (and it’s worth mentioning this to your hearing professional). It’s possible that there could be misdiagnosis between sensorineural and conductive hearing loss. So when you go in for your hearing test, it’s a smart idea to mention the possibility because there could be significant consequences.

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